Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Gateshead Half Marathon Report


 The fog on the Tyne quickly disappeared as 800 contestants eagerly awaited the start of the inaugural Gateshead Half-Marathon. Hosted by Gateshead Harriers with Chris Parr at the helm, it was the first near-to-normal road race - after two postponements - for many months as the country’s lock-down eased and for those who zig-zagged their way round the twists and turns and ‘slight’ inclines on the Gateshead banks of the Tyne it was smiles (nearly) all the way.

As the first of nine waves eased across the start line in an otherwise deserted sun-drenched Gateshead International Stadium, the same stadium which hosted a rain-swept Diamond League fixture seven days earlier, it was pre-race favourite Liam Aldridge who led the early charge down to the riverside.

Wearing bib number one, Aldridge, of Billingham Marsh House Harriers, quickly established an early lead as the field took in a stretch of the Swing Bridge before doubling back to head west out to the furthest point from departure.

With two circuits of the course to negotiate Aldridge had quickly opened up a significant gap and by half-way he had a lead of around nearly two minutes over North Shields Poly’s David Green who had a similar advantage over Tyne Bridge duo Tom Charlton and Ryan Holt. Then came Green’s Poly team-mates Rhys Durrant and James Anderson. On the second circuit Aldridge continued to cut out a lone furrow as he enjoyed the support of an enthusiastic crowd lining the route while behind the battle for the minor placings remained unchanged.

A steep incline back into the stadium and the finish didn’t slow down Aldridge in any way as he found an extra step to cross the line in 68min 07secs – a new pb by 52 seconds - which, on a course not noted for producing fast times, was remarkable.

Meanwhile, behind, Green, who was contesting his first half-marathon since 2017 (Great North Run, 1:47.04), finished a comfortable runner-up in 72:48. Holt proved the stronger of the Tyne Bridge pair to complete the podium placings, crossing the line in 73:33 with Charlton next home in 74:20 followed by Durrant (75:55) and Anderson (76:42).

The host club celebrated a ‘home’ victory in the women’s race with victory going to Gillian Manford who, like Aldridge, was always in the driving seat. Despite the close attentions throughout by Yorkshire visitor Molly Cawthorn, the Tynesider still had 25 seconds in hand as she crossed the line in 86:43. Third place went to Kathryn Stevenson (Tyne Bridge), just 19 seconds adrift of Cawthorn to finish in 87:27.

While there always has to be winners, on this occasion, it can certainly be said that everyone was a winner and while it may have been tough out on the course there were plenty of Smiles on the Tyne as they crossed the finish and pick up there well-earned medal and goodies.


 LIAM ALDRIDGE – The course was really tough in comparison to my last outing in the Brass Monkey. The event was really well organised and it was good to get back racing again and seeing a few familiar faces. I was hoping to pick the pace up in the final two or three miles but it didn’t quite work out that way. Nevertheless, I’ll definitely be back to tackle those hills again!

Liam Aldridge

 GILLIAN MANFORD (from her holiday base in the Lake District) – It was definitely harder going than the Brass Monkey last year, it was a really tough race, very hot, very hilly! I was nowhere near my pb (82:57) but it was more about winning for me in those conditions. The first few miles were nice and the support along the Quayside was brilliant, I’m sure it helped everyone it certainly gave me a boost at a time when I was going through a rough patch due to a stitch which stayed with me for about four miles on the toughest section of the course.

During that spell I was grateful for the out-and-back sections as I could see the distance between me and the second-placed girl. It was really good finishing on the track in the stadium, especially as sometimes I train there, and then picking up some nice little goodies at the end! It was exciting to be back at a near normal racing event. It was really well organised, the atmosphere was buzzing throughout and I think everyone was just happy to have a bit of normality back. Also, for me, it was nice to know that lockdown training wasn’t for nothing!

Gillian Manford

 CHRIS PARR (Race Organiser) – I’m so relieved now that the race is over and, what I’ve heard so far has been really positive. We had numerous hoops to jump through before we got the final go-ahead but in the end I think we got there. It certainly wasn’t the course I would have liked but then so what, l think everyone enjoyed the occasion of lining up in the first-ever Gateshead Half-Marathon. I also think the hills dotted around the course are a good thing to be honest – there are tons of ‘fast and flat’ races advertised but when you think about the classic races, they were about winning and mastering the course. I was too young for the Morpeth-Newcastle but I heard about Blagdon Bank, Elswick’s Denton Bank and Saltwell’s Chowdene Bank, all classic races from the past so I’ve already suggested our race includes Mount Gateshead!

@gatesheadhalf Sunday May 1st (Bank Holiday) 2022 - pending planning
Same again next year!!!

Chris Parr



Wednesday, 14 April 2021

NECAA Cross Country Relays - Thornley Hall Farm

Inaugural NECAA XC Relays - Report by Bill McGuirk

THE TRIP to Thornley Hall Farm is usually accompanied with athletes asking ‘how muddy will the course be!’ However, on the occasion of the curtain-raiser – and the closure – of the North East cross-country campaign, they were met with a bone-hard circuit much to the surprise of all who ventured to the County Durham countryside to partake in the inaugural North Eastern Counties Cross-Country Relay Championships.

Thanks to landowner Jon Taylor’s generosity and the hard-working race organiser, Archie Jenkins, the event, under strict Covid conditions, went ahead smoothly after an immaculate minute silence held in honour of the death of Prince Philip.

Officials joined the Masters Women first leg runners in one minutes silence

Master's women hold a minute's silence

No spectators were allowed at the farm with team managers permitted to watch the action unfold from a vantage point well away from the course as the appointed Covid officials made sure those that were fortunate to be in attendance were aware of what was expected of them.

Thanks to the generosity of the region’s athletes a collection for the ManHealth Charity managed to raise a staggering £562.23.

To donate click here

Lewis Kirkbride raising money for Man Health

There were five events on the programme – Masters Women (40+), Masters Men (40+), Senior Women, Senior Men and Under-20 Men - with limited entries accepted due to the latest Government and England Athletics’ restrictions with first leg runners spread out two-metres apart on an extended start line. 

MASTERS WOMEN (3x3k Relay)

THE Master’s Women opened the day’s action and it was Tyne Bridge who came to the changeover point in first place ahead of 19 rivals first place thanks to Alison Dargie’s effort of 12min 14sec, a time which was to prove the overall best of the contest. North Shields Poly (Stephanie Dann) were 10 seconds adrift in second spot with Birtley (Lorna Graham) a further nine seconds back in third position.

Alison Dargie ahead of Stephanie Dann

On stage two the Poly moved into pole position with over a minute advantage thanks to the stages’ fastest time by Becky Coleman as Elswick improved from sixth (Joanne Brown) to second thanks to Felicity Smith. Tyne Bridge (Charlotte Carpenter) were now back in third.

Going into the final stage the Poly had an advantage of nearly a minute-and-a-half as Alison Smith set off. However, it was Elvet Striders who proved to be their biggest rivals in the chase for the gold medals. The Durham team were back in eighth place (Anna Basu) on stage one and improved to sixth (Corrine Whaling) on the penultimate stage but still over two minutes adrift of the leaders. However, Anna Thompson quickly set about cutting back the deficit and while the Poly still held a significant advantage at the finish Thompson had reeled in everyone else as she posted the second quickest time of the day to see Elvet home to take the runners-up awards. Elswick, thanks to Andrea Banner, claimed the final podium place.

North Shields Poly Masters women's winning team

NEMAA Teams: 1 North Shields Poly, 2 Elvet, 3 Elswick

Master's women result

MASTERS MEN (3x3k Relay)

THE all-conquering Sunderland club continued to dominate NE masters events with a gun-to-tape victory though there were only 20 seconds in it at the end as Darlington claimed an exciting second place two seconds ahead of Elvet Striders.

Michael Barker had opened up the blue-vested Wearsiders’ account with the fastest overall time of 10:09 with Darlington (John Clifford) in second place 18 seconds adrift. Tyne Bridge (Cees Van Der Land) were a further five seconds back in third place after 38 teams had faced the starter.

Sunderland Harrier's Michael Barker

On stage two Sam Thurlbeck increased Sunderland’s advantage over Darlington (Paul Cook) while Michael Littlewood, with the stage’s quickest time, moved Elvet Striders up from fourth to second.

Elvet's Michael Littlewood

Chris Jackson had the honour of contesting the glory leg for Sunderland and it was a comfortable outing as the battle for minor honours hotted up behind. It was Darlington who were to prevail in the chase for second place with Wesley Tarn’s fastest stage time being enough to edge out Elvet (Graeme Watt) by two seconds.

NEMAA Teams: Men 1 Sunderland Harriers, 2 Darlington, 3 Elvet

Master's men result

Master's men result

SENIOR WOMEN (3x3k Relay)

ELSWICK Harriers pulled out a master stroke by including over-40 athlete Judith Nutt in their team.

Despite the long competitive lay-off, Amy Fuller carried over her excellent form to give Elswick the perfect start by posting the fastest time of the day on the opening leg, an advantage the Newcastle club held all the way to the finish. Gateshead (Gillian Manford) were in second place followed by Jesmond Joggers (Molly Pace).

Elswick's Amy Fuller

On stage two the leading positions stayed the same with Nichola Conlon keeping the Newcastle outfit ahead despite Gateshead’s Katherine Downie cutting back the lead by 10 seconds. Jesmond (Emma Glover) were still in third place with Morpeth the biggest stage movers, improving from 12th (Lorna MacDonald, who battled on despite picking up an injury) to fourth thanks to Lindsey Quinn.

Elswick's Judith Nutt

On the final stage Elswick played their ace and it proved a winner. Despite the best efforts of her younger rivals Nutt’s experience proved to be a successful formula as she brought Elswick home 15 seconds clear of Gateshead (Katherine Downie) as Morpeth (Catriona MacDonald) moved into third place to claim the bronze awards. Quickest on the stage was Lydia Turner as she brought Birtley through from 13th to seventh.

Birtley's Lydia Turner

Senior Women's Team Result

NECAA Silver for Gateshead Harriers

SENIOR MEN (4x3k Relay)

THE expected rivalry between three of the region’s most successful clubs prevailed with victory going to Gateshead who finished ahead of Sunderland and Morpeth.

Sunderland were in pole position at the first changeover thanks to Michael Wilson’s 9:25 effort, a time which was to prove the second best of the day. Gateshead (Conrad Franks) were in second place 21 seconds adrift with Tyne Bridge (Michael Hedley) also 21 seconds behind in third place. Jordan Scott brought Morpeth home in fourth spot.

Sunderland Harriers' Michael Wilson

Conrad Franks & Michael Headley

On leg two Liam Taylor added valuable seconds to Sunderland’s lead as Tom Charlton moved Tyne Bridge ahead of Gateshead (James Cripwell).

Things changed dramatically on the penultimate stage as Gateshead’s National Cross-Country champion Calum Johnson took over 39 seconds down on Sunderland’s Nathan Reed. Johnson, who honoured an agreement to turn out for the team despite being down to contest a road race, quickly cut back the deficit and when he came to the final changeover he had an advantage of 27 seconds after being the only competitor to dip under nine minutes with a 8:54 clocking. Adam Pratt moved Morpeth into third place as Tyne Bridge (Neil Eyes) slipped back to fifth behind Sunderland’s B team.

Gateshead's Calum Johnson

Despite new Sunderland recruit Stephen Jackson’s quickest efforts on the final leg the Wearsiders had to be content with the runners-up medals as Daniel Alexander continued to keep him at bay to bring the Tynesiders home with a 15-seconds advantage. Alistaire Douglass brought Morpeth home in third place followed by Sunderland’s B team, Jarrow and Hebburn and Morpeth’s B team.

After his eye-catching performance, Johnson said: ‘’I had agreed to run for the club weeks ago and it would have been unfair to drop out of the team. As it happens it also fitted better into my plans for my half-marathon debut in two weeks time. It means I can do a longer tempo run tomorrow as today was nice and short and not too taxing on the body.’’

Senior men's result

UNDER-20 Men (3x3k Relay)

ONLY five teams from three of the region’s clubs faced the starter and it was a runaway victory for the Morpeth trio of Matthew Briggs, Rowan Bennett and Ross Charlton as Durham City finished second and their B team third. However, clubs could only be awarded one set of medals which resulted in Houghton being promoted into bronze medal position. What stood out in the event was the performance of Charlton who ran the last leg for Morpeth in a time of 9:38, a time bettered by only two athletes in the senior event!

Morpeth Harriers' u20 winning team

u20 men's result

Full results available here

Many thanks to Val Baxter for results, and Stuart Whitman, Gateshead Harriers & Morpeth Harriers for photos.

Monday, 29 March 2021

Good Friday Relays



THE year 1966 is stuck in most people’s memories as the year England won the World Cup at Wembley. However, a little closer to home history was also being made a few months earlier (April 8) when the first Elswick Harriers’ Good Friday Road Relays took place.

Now, the event is one of the most popular on the local athletics circuit and while this year’s event – as was last year’s – has been cancelled I thought I would delve back over the years into the 55-year pilgrimage to the West End of Newcastle.

The first running of the Relays saw straight races for colts, boys and youths with the senior men’s relay contesting two circuits of the Two Ball Lonnen, Fenham Hall Drive, Wingrove Road and Ponteland Road course.

That inaugural event attracted the cream of North East distance runners with Saltwell’s Bill Wilkinson posting the fastest time of the day of 15min 30secs followed by fellow internationals Jim Alder (Morpeth) 15:37; Brooks Mileson (Sunderland) 15:43; John Caine (Gateshead) 15:48; Maurice Benn (Heaton) 15:52 and John Hillen (Saltwell) 15:56.

Setting the scene in the younger age groups years later was a sprightly Steve Cram (Jarrow and Hebburn) who was to go on and set course records for colts (6:16), boys (10:48) and youths (10:25).

Following on a year later from the Relay’s opening gambit, the senior course was changed to include the Denton Bank incline with Hillen setting the standard for future years by posting the day’s quickest time of 10:18.

Since that day only six athletes, once again all internationals, managed to dip under 10 minutes with the host club’s Olympic silver medallist Mike McLeod quickest of them all with a 9:46 clocking in 1977. Brendan Foster (Gateshead) recorded 9:52 in 1979 while two years later multi World record holder, Cram, also ran 9:52. Morpeth’s Mark Hudspith, a regular Good Friday competitor, has a best of 9:54 while Geoff Turnbull (Gateshead) ran 9:56 and Sunderland’s Graham Smith posted 9:59.

In the year 2000 17-year-old Mo Farah, on a break to the region, even took to the city’s roads after being persuaded to run in a makeshift Hounslow team despite having just five minutes to warm up. His preparation may not have been perfect but he did manage to post the third fastest overall time of the day (10:23) behind Steve Hepples (Loftus) who recorded 10:14 and the promoting club’s David Anderson who clocked 10:15. However, Farah’s outing was to no avail as the team was disqualified for they had only three runners one of which ran two stages!

The first time senior women contested the Denton Bank course was in 1986 with victory going to another World record holder Jill Hunter of Blaydon Harriers in 12:07. In 1988 Darlington’s Joanne Scott ran 11:58. That time was subsequently bettered six years later by fellow Blaydon double Commonwealth Games champion Kirsty Wade who ran 11:53 in 1991. The Wales representative also won the following year (11:22) and in 1997 in 12:05 which, on that occasion, suggested the weather conditions had a bearing on proceedings.

Another three-time winner was Cramlington’s Shirley Griffiths who triumphed three years in a row. In 1994 Griffiths posted 12:09, the following year 11:37 and in 1996 12:06.

Like the majority of events on the public highway it was with great sadness that the Elswick Good Friday extravaganza would have to find a new venue due to the increased traffic on the roads. So, in 2003, the organising committee were fortunate in finding a new location at Newburn Business Park and while not as testing a course it has been extremely popular for all ages, especially for the all-conquering Morpeth Harriers senior men’s four-man relay squad who have come out on top no less than 13 times!

Since the move, course records have tumbled after the host club’s Ryan McLeod ran 10:27 in 2003. That time stood the test of time for four years until Morpeth’s Ian Hudspith recorded 10:18 in 2007. Five years later Hudspith’s team-mate Peter Newton ran 10:12. The following year the host club’s talented athlete Phil Hurst ran 10:08 then two years later he recorded 9:55, a time which still stands today and is the only sub 10-minute performance ever posted.

Elswick Harriers' Phil Hurst - course record holder

In the early days the senior women’s event continued as an individual race with Morpeth’s Dianne Henaghan going into the record books with the first victory on the new course in a time of 12:12. Five years later Olympic representative Aly Dixon, then competing for Chester-le-Street, recorded 12:10. However, a year later that time was blown away by fellow international Kate Avery (Shildon) who ran 11:52.

In 2012 the senior women’s event changed to a relay with another Olympian, Morpeth’s Laura Weightman, regularly using the competition as a prelude to her summer track aspirations.

During the second running (2013) Weightman recorded 11:23 which was equalled the following year by Birtley’s Lydia Turner. As a warm up for the Rio Olympics in 2016 where the Morpeth athlete made the final of the 1,500m, Weightman posted 11:08 then 12 months later ran 10:52, a record which still stands, and in 2019, the last time the event was run, posted 10:53.

Course record holder Laura Weightman

Over the years Elswick Good Friday Relays have produced some excellent competition and while, for the second year there will be no exodus to Newburn the Newcastle club, one of the oldest in the country, should be proud of their record and eagerly await 2022 when, hopefully, young and old will be able to descend on the banks of Tyne for a great day of athletics. 


*Prior to Elswick Harriers taking over the Good Friday running of the event, Benwell Harriers used to promote road races on that date. Although they were not functioning as a club at this point, they managed to host their last farewell in 1965.

**Thanks go to Alan Nendick and Frank Watson for providing much of the information used in the article 

***WHILE there may not be any competitive action at Newburn on Good Friday you can still participate in a make-believe virtual relay. It can be ‘run’ anytime between April 2 and April 9. It is a free-to-enter event but Elswick Harriers are using the format to raise funds towards the cost of a Defibrillator to ensure maximum safety at the club’s training sessions. For further information see the club’s website.

BANK TOP: Gateshead’s John Mills closing on the brow of Denton Bank on his way to winning the Elswick youths race in 1975

A STAR IS BORN: Steve Cram on his way to a colts course record in 1975

NOT THIS TIME MO: How the Chronicle reported the Elswick Good Friday Road Races in 2000

OFF YOU GO: Jarrow & Hebburn’s Vince Wilson set's off during the 1995 Good Friday Relays

NEARLY AT THE SUMMIT: Wallsend’s Peter Saint grits his teeth as he approaches the top of Denton Bank in the 1996 Elswick Good Friday Relays

Bernadette Caygill & Angie Foster battling up the hill in 1988.

Debbie Spoor 1987, aged 15. Coming down Netherby Drive to the finish

Martin Slater: Ah the days when you could race on the roads - mind once a year scaling this hill was enough.

NEHL general secretary Micky Baker, when he was younger & fitter.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

From the archives: English National XC Townmoor 1986

by Bill McGuirk


I FOUND this race report from the English National Cross-Country Championships held on Town Moor on Saturday, March 1, 1986.

Make of the attempted Geordie dialect what you will!

THE ninety-ninth English Cross-Country Championships took place at Town Moor in Newcastle, this was the first time Newcastle had hosted the race, Provincial Insurance continued their support of the event. The programme contained a good Geordie welcome from the president M. Fraser of Darlington Harriers.

Us Geordie Hinnies want to say: ‘Howway aall ye lads, gan tappy lapy up the banks, but divvent cowp ya creels in the darts.’

Roughly translated means: ‘The local inhabitants would like to welcome all you chaps, to hope that you will not find the gradients excessive, and bid you take care lest you fall in the muddy ground.’

The course consisted of three laps of approximately three miles plus the start and finish straights and was nine miles in total.

The reigning champion, David Lewis (Rossendale) was a notable absentee, Tim Hutchings (Crawley) spent the week in Newcastle acclimatising and felt poised before the race saying: ‘I’m reasonably confident about Saturday, I’ve been very pleased with my three runs on the Continent and I really should have won in Paris. I feel I’m back to my best now.’

This was an ominous warning for the other leading contenders. Area champions were Bob Treadwell (Surrey Beagles), Southern titleholder; Nigel Gates (Bath and Percy), Midlands winner and Northern champion Geoff Turnbull (Gateshead) who was absent – Jon Richards (Cornwall) held the Inter-Counties title. Dave Clarke (Hercules Wimbledon) and Eamonn Martin (Basildon) were also planning to run. Tipton were hot favourites for the team title.

The course was challenging as it was covered with snow and ice undulating and there was also a cold wind blowing across the moor. After a mile when the initial stampede had begun to stretch out, the leading pack consisted of Mike McLeod (Elswick), Clarke, Hutchings, Tony Milovsorov (Tipton), Roger Hackney (Aldershot, Farnham and District) and Neil Tennant (Luton United).

The two main hills on each lap had an impact of the leading runners. Hutchings was coping with them admirably and when the runners started the second circuit Hutchings had a 40 metre advantage over Clarke with Tennant, McLeod and Steve Binns (Bingley), Hackney, Martin and Miovsorov in pursuit. Hutchings continued to dominate throughout the lap, and Clarke increased the gap on the chasing pack.

On the last lap Hutchings made the going look ease with a masterful execution of cross-country running, Clarke continued to chase and Martin overcame the challenge of McLeod, Binns and Tennant to move into third, Hutchings went onto to win by 34 seconds in 47:25, silver went to Clarke and bronze to Martin. McLeod won the battle fourth place.

Early leaders

Winner: Tim Huchings

In the team race Milovsorov led Tipton to victory with their six counters placing inside the top 79, this gave Tipton a 156-point win over Basildon with the Wolverhampton and Bilston team picking up the bronze medals.

The 26-year-old Hutchings said: ‘It wasn’t a traditional cross-country course. Had it been drier, it would have been a very, very fast, flat course, with just that one hill really. The second hill was negligible because you came down off the first one so fast, but it was a tough course because of the conditions and I can’t complain about that.’

Tim derived more satisfaction than his first win in 1983 saying: ‘I’m more aware of what’s going on now in the sport, especially after having such a bad year last year. Just about everybody was running apart from Dave Lewis.’

RESULT: 1 T Hutchings (Crawley) 47:25; 2 D Clarke (Hercules Wimbledon) 47:59; 3 E Martin (Basildon) 48:10; 4 M McLeod (Elswick) 48:33; 5 T Milovsorov (Tipton); 6 S Binns (Bingley) 48:43. Other notable NE finishers included: 15 B Rushworth (Sund) 49:19; 31 G Nagel (Gates) 50:24; 33 C Naisbitt (Walls) 50:27; 42 S Sutcliffe (Gates) 50:45;45 B Leddicoat (Gates) 50:52; 51 P Cuskin (J&H); 52 S Parr (Gates); 90 A Robinson (Gates); 121 A Johnson (Elsw); 128 D Hill (Sund); 149 M Coleby (Gates); 180 M Murphy (Gates); 187 R Cooke (NewAyk); 191 N Reeves (Morp); 204 A Wears (J&H); 220 K Lowther (J&H); 221 G Woods (Morp); 238 P Smith (Morp); 256 P O’Docherty (J&H); 274 A Dent (Blay); 277 P Merrison (Walls); 281 L Atkinson (Alnw); 283 C Abbott (NewAyc); 293 M Price (Derw); 296 A Jenkins (Morp). And, outside the top 300 at random, 301 G Hetherington (DurC); 323 I Brown (Morp); 345 J Marshall (DurC); 347 Moore (Gosf); 358 K Mackey (SthSh); 361 A Lamb (NSP); 365 B Jameson (Tyne); 397 W Gilroy (Gosf). Other prominent names include: 441 M Miles (heat); 461 A Gibson (Gosf);462 T Power (J&H); 463 D Speight (Morp); 467 G Robinson (Ch-le-St); 474 S Gaines (Morp); 488 D Lowther (J&H); 492 P Casey (Ch-le-St); 494 D Littlewood (Crook); 497 C Richardson (NSP); 507 K Freeman (Ch-le-St); 541 A Gallon (Heat); 542 J Morton (Elsw); 560 B Clark (Salt); 566 R Page (Hough); 578 I Archbold (Sund); 646 K Wesson (Ch-le-St); 672 J Alder  (Morp); 685 M Candlish (J&H); 691 D Appleby (Clare); 699 R Boak (Walls); 760 P McLeod (Elsw); 764 D Henderson (Alnw); 778 M Shirley (Heat); 816 T O’Gara (Walls); 817 J Watson (Wash); 841 J Ranson (Ch-le-St); 844 C White (NewAyc); 945 A Brown (Blyth); 957 S Pigford (Hough); 1,018 O McGarell (SthSh); 1,067 B Murray (Derw); 1,101 T Attey (Ch-le-St); 1,118 T Went (NSP); 1,312 C Brown (Heat); 1,382 K Bay (Bray?) (NthPol); 1,442 M Page (Hough); 1,593 R Laverick (Ch-le-St). There were 1,707 finishers with Tipton winning the team race from Basildon and Wolverhampton and Bilston with Gateshead finishing fourth. 23 Jarrow and Hebburn; 27 Morpeth; 46 Elswick; 59 Mandale; 75 Newton Aycliffe; 76 Wallsend; 86 Chester-le-Street; 93 Blaydon; 104 North Shields Poly; 109 Gosforth; 130 Crook; 131 Claremont; 136 Tynedale; 144 Derwentside; 146 Saltwell; 147 Houghton; 152 Washington; 153 Darlington; 157 South Shields.   

**THE 54th ladies National was held earlier on February 2 at Western Park, Leicester and was won by Carole Bradford (Clevedon) with Jane Shields (Sheffield) second and Julie Laughton (Derby Ladies).

The North East charge was led by Blaydon’s Jill Hunter who finished in 23rd place. Christina Boxer, who later linked up with Gateshead, finished seventh.

Other notable NE finishers included: 34 C Naisby (Hough), 69 J Scott (Darl), 88 C Leroi (Darl),103 D Robinson (Darl), 109 L Souter (Darl), 152 M Dodsworth (Hough), 153 L Harding (Hough), 159 H Robinson (Ch-le-St), 164 S Raine (Darl), 231 J Dixon (Gates), 274 K Cornwall (NSP), 292 Z Humphreys (Blay), 303 R Smith (NSP). There were 566 finishers. In the team race, won by Sale, Darlington finished 10th and Blaydon were 36th.

Monday, 22 February 2021

From the archives 2001 Michael Openshaw National Winner

ON THIS DAY FEBRUARY 24, 2001 Michael Openshaw was crowned National Cross-Country champion roared on by huge local crowd at Maiden Castle, Durham City.


The superb victory by the Chester-le-Street-based athlete came out of the blue as pre-race media attention never gave him a mention possibly due to the fact that he was a doubtful starter plus the fact that he missed out on a place in the GB&NI team for the World Cross after finishing 10th in the Trials at the Inter-Counties at Wollaton Park, Nottingham three weeks earlier.

So, for us who were there that day, it came as a huge surprise to spot Openshaw an hour or so before the off warming up as the rest of the championship programme unfolded.

I managed to catch up with Michael earlier this week and after jogging his memory of this time 20 years ago he vividly remembered the day that turned out to be the springboard to the best year of his athletics career.

“Despite the National being held so close to home it wasn’t in my plans to run after the disappointment of not making the team for the World XC Championships,” confessed Openshaw.

“At Wollaton Park I could have opted to run the short course (4k) Trial but decided to take my chance over the longer distance which, unfortunately, didn’t quite work out the way I had hoped.

“In the early stages I was feeling really comfortable in the leading group but for some reason got into a verbal confrontation with another athlete which resulted in me shooting to the front and forcing the pace on.

“That rush of blood probably proved to be my downfall for in the end I slipped back down the field to finish 10th just over a minute adrift of Glynn Tromans.”

By now Openshaw had left his home-town club and linked up with Midlands-based outfit Birchfield Harriers but at Nottingham, which was also the Inter-Counties Championships, he was a member of the winning North Eastern Counties team which was led home on that occasion by Dominic Bannister who had finished in third place.

On all accounts on returning home Openshaw’s cross-country campaign was over especially as fixtures in March were cancelled up and down the country due to the foot and mouth disease.

However, all things changed dramatically on February 24 when Openshaw made his intentions to contest his first-ever National as a senior.

“I didn’t have the motivation to do any serious training after the Trials as there didn’t seem any reason as I certainly had no plans of running the National at that point,” added Openshaw.

“However, on the morning of the race, literally four or so hours before it was due to start I rang Gordon (Surtees, his coach), who was on a train, and I said rather than go for that 10-mile training run which was what I had originally planned to do, I fancy giving the National a go and I think he said OK then so that was that and I started to gather my gear together before heading over to Durham.

“One thing certain I didn’t have any pre-race nerves and I just thought to myself go out and enjoy myself and that’s what I did.

“The race itself turned out to be what I had expected and surprisingly, despite the lack of training, I felt comfortable as the likes of Keith Cullen, who had finished second in the Trials, and Rob Denmark (formerly of Gateshead Harriers) pushed on at the head of affairs as I settled in the main group just behind.

“By half-way Cullen had opened up a slight lead as the bunch behind began to break up but I was still going along nicely at that point. With just over a lap to go I managed to reel Cullen in and ran with him for a short period then, for some unknown reason, he just stepped off the course, whether he felt he should save himself for the forthcoming World Championships or whatever left me bewildered.

“I certainly didn’t want to be left in the front with over a mile still to go it just wasn’t my way especially after what happened in the Trials. Luckily, Sam Haughian - who went on to win the National in 2002 but tragically died in a car crash in 2004 - managed to join me and we were stride-for-stride entering the closing stages.

“My confidence grew the closer we got to the finish for I sensed everyone lining the course was rooting for me and was banking on my track speed would to come into play and that’s the way it panned out as I went for home with around 200 metres to go and, thankfully, managed to get the gap before crossing the finish line.

“In a way I supposed I surprised myself but not as much as it did to my old friend Jim Colpitts who was officiating at the finish. He was manning the ropes that day and the sight of me charging down the home straight caught him out so much so that he managed to drop the rope just as I crossed the line!

“It was a great feeling going up to receive the trophy with many people staying behind for the presentation and giving me a huge cheer. Being a local it was possibly the loudest of the day.

“Looking at the names on the trophy certainly gave me a proud feeling especially five or so hours earlier I wasn’t even going to run!’’

After missing out on a place for the Sydney Olympics the year before Openshaw’s target for the rest of 2001 was gaining selection for the August IAAF World Championships which were scheduled for Edmonton, Canada.

However, for that to happen he had to run sub 13min 25sec 5,000m, a qualifying time over eight seconds quicker than his lifetime best of 13:33.26 which he recorded in Milan in June.

Openshaw was in a quandary, should he line up in the Trials in Birmingham or should he take a chance and go to Heusden, northern Belgium where a high-class field was assembled.

“It was a huge decision to make and extremely difficult. By missing the Trials would the selectors take it as a slant against them but on the other hand endurance races at the Trials are usually slow-run so even if I managed to have won there would be a good chance it wouldn’t be quick enough

“So, I made the decision to go to Belgium with the hope that I could get the time required and that no-one managed it at the Trials. In the end the Trials were won in 13:52.72 while I managed to just get under the figures required by running a huge personal best of 13:24.44 even though I could only finish 15th in the race.

“It was a huge relief to know that I had made the right decision though I still had an anxious wait before the selectors got in touch to say I was in the team.

“Big decisions seemed to be the order of the day for me during 2001 but thankfully the one to run the National at the last moment and the one to go to Belgium instead of lining up in the Trials certainly were ones to be pleased with.’’

Unfortunately, for Openshaw, who was the only British male endurance athlete to make it to Canada, he couldn’t quite repeat his Belgium exploits in the World Championships where he was eliminated in the heats after clocking one of his slowest ever 5,000m times of 14:00:84.

by Bill McGuirk

Saturday, 2 January 2021

From the archives: 1986

 From the archives of Bill McGuirk:  Article by Alan Dobison, 1986

Controversy again at Harrier League

Oh Dear! Do people never learn?

After the South Shields disqualifications you would have thought that clubs would have double-checked that their athletes were correctly packed.  But no!  Almost all of the spectators at Chester-le-Street knew that Alan Lamb, winner of the Cockermouth Marathon, should have been in the fast pack.  The inevitable happened, Alan was disqualified and his afternoon ruined.

No-one can blame the officials, John Keefe and his volunteers have enough to do and they manage magnificently without the added burden of such basic inefficiencies.

More to follow: Willie Watson, in second place, was also disqualified.  Willie, a former Elswick Harrier, recently moved to Washington and joined that club - therefore had not completed his nine month suspension.  However , one wonders why Willie should have to serve one at all since his move was over a considerable distance (first claim committees please note).

The eventual winner was an embarrassed John Renney, who thought he had finished 3rd.  John, like Ritchie Ogle at South Shields, has been around a fair time for an 18 year old.  Gateshead easily took the team honors.

More success for them followed in the colts event, where Cramlington-based Johnathan Dearing came home first.  Elswick took the team award.

Rob Draper from Chester-le-Street took the honors in the Boys race from an unknown Crook athlete, who wasn't registered.  The club officials disappeared before a name could be supplied.

Morpeth swept the board in the Youths' event.  Kirk Groundwater finished a winner with Stephen Priest the fastest, and the club took the team honors.

What a day for the Priest family! Tony was fastest in the Youths' event and sister Susan was second behind Karen Foster in the Girls' race.  Where does Mrs. Priest put all the trophies?

Lisa Reilly must frighten our intermediate Ladies to death.  Only six turned out at South Shields and even fewer - five - at Chester-le-Street.  Come on Girls!  You never know until you try!

Alan Dobison

Saturday, 19 December 2020

Letter of thanks from George Patterson

 On behalf of Hudson Stoker’s immediate family, Sheila, and Jeff Lee, (Sister and Brother-in-Law), and his two nephew’s, Great Nieces and Great Nephew, and myself, I would personally wish to thank our many friends at Morpeth Harriers & AC, North East Counties AA, and Northern Athletics, and friends, for the many cards and kind wishes expressed at the time of our very sad loss.

We were all very much overwhelmed by the number of people wo showed their very kind concerns at a time when we very much needed you.

Hudson was, and still is a most wonderful friend, whom I will never be able to forget, and I will continue to treasure the memory of his wonderful friendship for the rest of my days.

I was very lucky in life to have met and known him, and our 52 years that we spent as friends, and close companion, will always be held most dearly to my heart.

He was very much a gentle, gentleman, something unique, who is thankfully now out of the pain that he very much bravely bore, without a grumble, and with the determined grace and dignity that was very much true to his character.

Neatness, and the need for everything in its place was very much Hudson’s forte, lessons I learnt from him throughout our lovely life together.

He will always be very sadly missed, God Bless.

Kind Regards

George Patterson